Systematic review of analytical methods applied to longitudinal studies of malaria.
Stanley CC., Kazembe LN., Mukaka M., Otwombe KN., Buchwald AG., Hudgens MG., Mathanga DP., Laufer MK., Chirwa TF.
BACKGROUND:Modelling risk of malaria in longitudinal studies is common, because individuals are at risk for repeated infections over time. Malaria infections result in acquired immunity to clinical malaria disease. Prospective cohorts are an ideal design to relate the historical exposure to infection and development of clinical malaria over time, and analysis methods should consider the longitudinal nature of the data. Models must take into account the acquisition of immunity to disease that increases with each infection and the heterogeneous exposure to bites from infected Anopheles mosquitoes. Methods that fail to capture these important factors in malaria risk will not accurately model risk of malaria infection or disease. METHODS:Statistical methods applied to prospective cohort studies of clinical malaria or Plasmodium falciparum infection and disease were reviewed to assess trends in usage of the appropriate statistical methods. The study was designed to test the hypothesis that studies often fail to use appropriate statistical methods but that this would improve with the recent increase in accessibility to and expertise in longitudinal data analysis. RESULTS:Of 197 articles reviewed, the most commonly reported methods included contingency tables which comprised Pearson Chi-square, Fisher exact and McNemar's tests (n = 102, 51.8%), Student's t-tests (n = 82, 41.6%), followed by Cox models (n = 62, 31.5%) and Kaplan-Meier estimators (n = 59, 30.0%). The longitudinal analysis methods generalized estimating equations and mixed-effects models were reported in 41 (20.8%) and 24 (12.2%) articles, respectively, and increased in use over time. A positive trend in choice of more appropriate analytical methods was identified over time. CONCLUSIONS:Despite similar study designs across the reports, the statistical methods varied substantially and often represented overly simplistic models of risk. The results underscore the need for more effort to be channelled towards adopting standardized longitudinal methods to analyse prospective cohort studies of malaria infection and disease.